Top 11 Sports Law Stories for 2011

Sandusky scandals leads the way

Here are the stories that we have identified as the biggest stories in 2011 that incorporated elements of Sports Law into their midst.

  1. Penn State
  2. Ohio State
  3. Syracuse
  4. NFL CBA
  5. NBA CBA
  6. Chris Paul trade
  7. Sam Hurd drug bust
  8. FIFA corruption
  9. Concussions
  10. Agent regulations
  11. Conference realignment
  12. ***Explanation for why NO TIM TEBOW

So now if you want the details, you have to follow along below:

  1. Penn State

Where do we even start with this process?  The entire conspiracy and cover up at Penn State is beyond belief.   Despite the objections of supporters of the school and supporters of Coach Paterno, there is no feasible way that this situation should not have received much more attention and awareness prior to 2011. 

The incidents were clearly known in 1998 when Sandusky was essentially “forced” to take an early retirement.  There is no other explanation for that occurrence.  And yet Sandusky was allowed to continue to have a presence on campus and obviously continue inflicting unspeakable terrors on those young boys.  Even when the incident of 2002 occurred, the university and its administration did virtually nothing.  While everyone chooses to bash Mike McQueary, and while he may deserve some of the wrath and anger, his “failures” pale in comparison to those of Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno.  They can choose to classify this situation however they want to, but the reality is that their decisions in 1998 and 2002 allowed at least a dozen more incidents to occur.

Should Mike McQueary have taken greater steps to prevent the 2002 incident.  Perhaps.  But none of us know how we would react despite our instinctual response of saying “of course we would have intervened, stopped the incident and called the police immediately.”  When your boss and/or supervisor are doing inappropriate things it is very difficult to even report it up the chain.  McQueary did that.  Much more of the blame belongs to Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno.

And while the media blasts Penn State for the cover up of the activities, you have to wonder where the coverage of the incidents was in 1998 and 2002.  And even more egregious, why was it so late in the year when these incidents came to light.  One of the best reporting jobs in 2011 was by Sara Ganim (@sganim).  Her coverage was there for everyone to see in APRIL!!!  YES APRIL!!! How did the stories she wrote go unnoticed for so long by the mainstream media?  She provided great coverage throughout and was one of the first people with most of the elements of the story as it unfolded.

Where does Penn State go from here?  They were probably wise in laying low in the coaching search until after the bowl season is completed so that it does not become a major distraction for the team.  That strategy also helps keep it out of the limelight of bowl week when college football dominates the landscape.  By the time PSU makes its hire, the college football calendar is essentially over and everything will be dominated by the NFL playoffs and the NFL Draft preparation season (Senior Bowl (and other All-Star games), National Signing Day and the NFL Combine.

Can PSU recover?  Absolutely.  A few people made terrible decisions that allowed this situation to continue way long than necessary.   But the school remains.  Its pride and heritage remain (though tarnished).  With a good hire PSU will be back as a major force in football in just a few years.  So in an absurd turn of events, those fans looking for new leadership and an end to the Paterno era got their wish, though certainly not in the manner they desired.

  • Ohio State

If Penn State was the “pure evil” in college athletics, Ohio State was the mischievous younger sibling that feels like they can get away with anything.  You heard me rip apart the decision last year to allow all of the OSU players to participate in the Sugar Bowl before starting their suspensions.  It was absurd.  And the degree of absurdity was not really discovered until we had hard facts and evidence showing just how early Jim Tressel knew about the problems.  

Ohio State has frequently acted with the sense of entitlement throughout its program.  The attacks on the Little Sisters of the Poor and the annoying introductions of “THE Ohio State University.”   And its athletic department continued to show the same arrogance as it expected the NCAA to roll over and let its weak, self-imposed penalties stand for its actions.

Nobody can compare what happened at OSU to the despicable conduct at PSU, but the great lack of institutional control is one that needed to change.  So now, from this day forward, it will be known as “A state of Ohio university.”

  • Syracuse

Oy, aren’t we tired of scandals yet?  The long time frame in which Bernie Fine remained in his position is far less surprising than what happened at Penn State because there have been no allegations that Fine used University facilities to accomplish his actions.  There may have been some involvement and connection to the program, but there have not been credible claims to date that anyone else at Syracuse knew what was going on.  The early statements by Jim Boeheim may be the ones that cause the school the most damage.  We still have a long way to go to hear all of the details of this situation so you can expect it to remain at the forefront of the news for 2012.

  • NFL CBA

It was “only” 136 days, but the impact of the NFL labor dispute received almost round the clock coverage.  From the lockouts to the lawsuits, to the appeals to the procedural manipulations engaged in by both parties it was an interesting battle.  But it was also a battle that could not be won by either side without a negotiated resolution.  All parties were poised to lose too much money.  While the grandstanding and media ploys of each side played out, the public grew increasingly agitated with BOTH sides.  Support was sharply divided and there were many good arguments made by both the NFL and the NFLPA.   Players sacrificing their bodies for short careers and long term damage and owners who have invested billions of dollars in team ownership, operations and infrastructure.  Despite the legal maneuvers of each party, you could tell that each side was entrenched in its core beliefs and until they were both threatened with losing real dollars, neither would budge.  Ultimately Robert Kraft probably saved the day and essentially went in like a business person, took some of the control away from the lawyers, and helped pushed through an agreement that appears to be more positively constructed for the long term than the prior deal that was opted out of by the owners.  Labor peace for 10 years.  Now if only they would allow cable systems and smart phones to get the Sunday Ticket without needing to be a DirecTV subscriber we would all be set.

  • NBA CBA

The NBA lockout received FAR less attention from the media than the NFL lockout did.  In part there was much more going on in the sports landscape with MLB post-season, college and NFL football underway and the NHL continuing to grow in popularity.  As with most labor disputes, nothing seems to get done proactively.  It typically takes significant losses or collateral damage before the parties are willing to give concessions over the last few points of contention.  For the NBA, this amounted to the split of the revenues.  So with the season pushed back and the Chris Paul fiasco over (see below), the NBA appears poised for a strong season with interest heightened by the fact that there will be a condensed schedule which will make each game more meaningful in the playoff race.

  • Chris Paul trade

Can you say “conflict of interest?”  I knew that you could.  But apparently it is a concept that the NBA is not clear about.  High on everyone’s list of problems in the NBA is the fact that no league should own a team.  Who is the league really representing?  The existing franchise?  The fans?  The future owner?  The value of the franchise?  The current community in which the team exists?  Depending on how you answer those questions you will see that there is an enormously large discrepancy in what actions need to be taken and the prioritization of those actions.  Voiding the Chris Paul trade was something that the league did purportedly to protect the value of the franchise.  Was it Dan Gilbert’s public admonishment? Was it prospective owners getting unhappy? The reality is that Chris Paul was going to be leaving at the end of the season regardless of anything that the league did.  So the question begging to be asked is “Was it better for the franchise to get something in return instead of nothing after the season.”  There is obviously no right or wrong answer to that question, it is one that each owner (or ownership group) has to answer for itself.  Putting the league in the position of deciding what media market to send one of its biggest starts to smacks of self-dealing.

  • Sam Hurd drug bust

How scared are any NFL players that were getting their drugs from Sam Hurd?  Hurd was not merely dealing a small quantity of drugs to a few close friends and/or acquaintances, he was preparing to establish and operate a drug empire of the scale that has never been seen within professional sports, especially by an active player.  Nate Newton’s infamous arrest with enormous amounts of marijuana occurred after his playing days were over.

If you did not follow the details closely, go back and read through the links in this posting which outline the magnitude of the drugs Hurd was seeking to purchase.  There is little doubt that he was supplying to other NFL players but those merely buying and using the drugs will not face great punishment.  The question is whether any other NFL players were working with Hurd or working under Hurd to establish their own distribution schemes.

  • FIFA corruption

One thing that you have to give FIFA credit for is doing something that no other organization has ever been able to accomplish—Making Chicago politics look clean and efficient.

Has there ever been a more corrupt organization from top to bottom?  The only question that remains about FIFA is whether it should even exist.   It certainly has an important role in world soccer and there is undoubtedly the need to have an organization to provide the function. 

But if you analyze what FIFA has done and how it has done it, you are likely to reach the conclusion that the entire organization is TOO broken to be fixed.  At a certain point if you have a money pit of a building you are better off knocking the whole thing down and building from scratch.  Is there really any way to salvage FIFA from a structure that has layers of corruption built upon other layers of corruption which are obscuring more corruption which is undetectable from the surface because you cannot get past the first 3 layers of corruption.

Go and look at the number of high ranking FIFA officials brought into question.  Look at the voting process involved in awarding the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  Look at the way in which any of these things came about.  I dare you to find any shreds of integrity.

  • Concussions

How many concussion lawsuits have we seen?  The number rises every single week.  By some accounts, the number of suits filed against the various entities is already in double digits. Every player (and many of their lawyers) are trying to get their piece of the concussion lawsuit pie just like the large class action firms try to sign up Plaintiff’s in the mass tort litigation space.

The sad part is that we seem to be having a fundamental failure in the approach to concussions. Virtually all of the time and energy is spent on just 2 of the 3 elements:

  • Preventing concussions
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment and Recovery.

The third element is virtually ignored.  The only recovery anyone talks about is how quickly can we get someone back on the field/court/ice.  But the long term impacts have been almost entirely ignored and there are very few groups working to develop a process that can allow athletes and former athletes to overcome some of the effects of concussions.

  1. Agent regulations

Do I have to repeat myself year after year?  You can read my article from the preview for 2011 and you will see that the core issues have not changed.  Is anything going to be done? Soon? 

Earlier this year I made a plea for National Regulations.  Not on top of the other regulations, but instead.

The timing seems right and I would have been more optimistic about where this was going before all of the sexual abuse scandals broke.  Deservedly they have received more of the attention and the powers that be are scrambling to find ways to not only prevent it from happening in the future but figuring out how to handle the next inevitable scandal that breaks, hopefully not from their institution or organization.

  1. Conference realignment

Are we done? Doubtful.  Have we reached the saturation point?  Maybe.  When all heck seemed ready to break loose and turn into four 16 team power conferences, the process got bogged down in TV deals, rivalries and often a desire of certain key players (Texas and Oklahoma) to stay together and try to keep their power spots.  Would UT and OU have the same clout if they joined the Pac 12, SEC or Big Ten? Nope.  And therefore the Longhorn Network was born.  But with Boise going out to the Big East and with TCU going east, then not going or were they going?  Can you really keep track of where everyone is these days?  Just a few short years ago any college football fan could easily tell you what conference the Top 100 schools were in.  Today, that is a far more challenging task.  

  1. NO Tim Tebow???

Before I get bashed by all of the Tim Tebow supporters out there, remember this is supposed to be a sports law blog not a cult icon blog.  While Tebow has transcended the game in an amazing way for a QB who has so few on the field accomplishments in the NFL, he has fortunately not been involved in legal issues.  Plenty of dilemmas as he went from 2nd string at the start of training camp to a reported 4th string to a starter when Kyle Orton was not getting the job done to the satisfaction of the Denver fans. 

Is Tim Tebow the answer?  Long term?  Does not look like he is ready to be a quality PASSER in the NFL.  Does that mean he cannot play QB?  No.  Tebow is undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders that we have ever seen, especially from a person whose skill set is questioned around the country on a minute by minute basis. 

Was Tebow played by the Broncos merely with the hope that he failed so that they could say “See, we gave him the chance and he did not get the job done.”  We will never know because Tebow never let himself fail.  His win streak had an almost divine intervention like quality with recovered onsides kicks, runners going out of bounds to keep Denver in the game, his kicker hitting 50+ yard FGs like they are XPs and a slew of turnovers and outstanding play generated from his defense.

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